Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Practical Advice from the Desert

More practical advice from the letters of Saints Barsanuphius and John:
(#129) Question from the same brother to the Other Old Man [John]. What, then, should I do? For my sorrow at being separated from my wife is persisting violently.

Response by John: It is written about man and woman: "The two shall be one flesh" (Gen 2.24). Therefore, just as if you were to cut off a member of your own flesh, the rest of the body would also be in pain for a while, until the wound is healed and the pain subsists; so also it is necessary for you to be in pain for a while, since your very own flesh has been cut away.

(#290) Question from the same person to the same Old Man [John]. Since I perceive that, when I make a prostration before certain people, I blush a little out of vainglory, should I avoid making such prostrations before those people, or should I simply do whatever comes naturally?

Response by John: Do not deliberately seek to make prostrations before certain people or privately; simply do whatever comes naturally.

(#437) Question: If I perform the sign of the Cross with my left hand, because I am unable to do so with my right hand, is this improper?

Response by Barsanuphius: Well, as for me, whenever I want to perform the sign of the Cross over my right hand, I certainly have to use my left hand to do so.

(#470) Question: There are certain conversations that are indifferent, bearing neither sin nor profit. These may include conversations with someone about, say, the prosperity of cities or their turmoil or peace, or about wars that are going to break out, or other such matters. Is it inappropriate to speak about these matters as well?

Response by John: If silence is necessary even during conversations about good matters, how much more so in matters that are indifferent? However, if we cannot keep silent, being overcome by conversing with others, let us not prolong the conversation in order not to fall into the snare of the enemy through chattering too much.

(#471) Question: Well, there are many occasions when I come to such chattering by discussing matters that are indifferent; and no one escapes sin by chattering. So what should I do?

Response by John: Let us maintain some measure for ourselves in this way. If we have noticed that we have been overcome by the thought to speak once, then let us try our best to prevent this from happening a second time. If we are overcome a second time, then let us be prepared to prevent it from happening a third time; and let us progress in this way during every conversation. So, if the number of occasions that we are given to speak is ten, and one is overcome by temptation nine times and prevents it on the tenth, then one is found to be better than the other who has been overcome by the temptation to speak ten times.

(#658) Question: When I see someone insulting religion and blaspheming the holy faith, I am troubled against this person, supposedly out of zeal. What does this mean?

Response by John: You have certainly heard that no one can come to correction through evil, but rather only through good. Therefore, speak to this person with meekness and long-suffering, advising him in godly fear. And if you see that you are troubled, it is not necessary to say anything to him.

(#686) Another Christ-loving layperson asked the same Old Man [John]: I want to press some Jewish wine in my presser. Is this a sin?

Response by John: If, when God rains, it rains in your field but not in that of the Jew, then do not press his wine. If He is loving-kind to all and rains upon the just and the unjust (cf. Mt 5:45), then why do you want to be inhumane and not compassionate, rather, as He says: "Be merciful even as your Father in heaven is merciful" (Lk 6:36).

(#773) Question: Since every food contains a natural sweetness, is this spiritually harmful to the person who eats of it?

Response by John: God our Master created this sweetness in each food, and there is no harm in eating of this with thanksgiving. However, one should always guard against attachment; for this is what is harmful to the soul.

(#845) A Christ-loving layperson asked the Other Old Man [John]. Is it good for me to suggest to the lord bishop whatever I feel is beneficial for him?

Response by John: This is a good thing, and it is proper for a love that is according to God. Hold your heart in purity before God, and this will not cause you harm. Now, having your heart in purity means not saying anything against anyone out of vengeance, but only for the sake of good itself. Therefore, do not imagine that such a thing is slander; for everything done for the sake of correction is not slander. Nothing good results form slander; whereas, in this case, the result is good. This is why it is not slander.
You really ought to buy the book.

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